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Norfolk woman recalls experience in Japanese prisoner-of-war camp

PUBLISHED: 15:46 14 August 2020 | UPDATED: 17:24 14 August 2020

Mona Leckie, 76 from Fakenham was born in Japan on November 30, 1943. She is laying the wreath at Fakenham’s VJ Day service on August 15. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Mona Leckie, 76 from Fakenham was born in Japan on November 30, 1943. She is laying the wreath at Fakenham’s VJ Day service on August 15. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

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A Norfolk woman has told how she was taken to a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp at six months old.

The letter written by Mona Leckie mother to the family in England after her birth. Picture: Ella WilkinsonThe letter written by Mona Leckie mother to the family in England after her birth. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Mona Leckie spent 15 months in the camp in Japanese-occupied China in 1944-5 at the tail-end of the Second World War.

Now the 76-year-old, from Fakenham, is urging people to remember civilians and other Far East camp inmates on the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, which falls on Saturday, August 15.

Mrs Leckie was born in China on November 30, 1943, and is laying the wreath at Fakenham’s VJ Day service.

Her father was living over there as he was working for Sun Insurance London in Shanghai. He met her mother there after her grandparents moved to China from Manchester and raised her.

Mona Leckie newspaper clipping from an interview her mother, Renee Cumberbatch gave about her time in a POW camp. Picture: Ella WilkinsonMona Leckie newspaper clipping from an interview her mother, Renee Cumberbatch gave about her time in a POW camp. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

The Japanese took her father to Lincoln Avenue Internment Camp, Shanghai on June 7 1943. Mrs Leckie’s mum, Renee Cumberbatch, was left as she was four months pregnant with Mona.

He would spend over a year without his family, before Mona, her mother and grandfather were taken into the camp when Mrs Leckie was six months old. They spent another 15 months interned.

Mrs Leckie said she felt there was little attention paid to the civilians in war.

She said: “There is no mention of civilians because, whenever you hear about war, it is that the people you hear about are the people in the line, not the people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Redcross letter reccived by Mona Leckie's family after the end of the war. Picture: Ella WilkinsonThe Redcross letter reccived by Mona Leckie's family after the end of the war. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

“It is sad, but you know what people want to see, they don’t want to know about a baby in a camp, they want to know about the fighter.”

She remembers nothing of the experience, except for the stories told by her parents. However, she these did not come until much later, she said.

“For me, I didn’t know because I was a child. You just had to survive your day, eat the food they gave you. You have to live through this.

“When it’s finished, like everyone, war is not spoken about.”

Mona's parents, Renee and Leslie Cumberbatch back in England in 1952. Picture: Mona LeckieMona's parents, Renee and Leslie Cumberbatch back in England in 1952. Picture: Mona Leckie

She said they were “lucky” as they were not tortured or humiliated, with the camp having older people and families. She said the people there suffered from malnutrition, living in small, isolated areas.

However, despite these horrendous circumstances, she said they never tried to escape.

Mrs Leckie said: “We never tried to because there was no need to.

“The difference with us is that we were in there because we were civilians. We were plucked out of our house and put into prison because countries were at war.”

The Redcross letter reccived by Mona Leckie's family after the end of the war. Picture: Ella WilkinsonThe Redcross letter reccived by Mona Leckie's family after the end of the war. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

When the war in the east ended, there were suddenly no Japanese there - so the prisoners walked out and returned to their homes.

Her father returned to work for the insurance company, but her mother had suffered hugely with malnutrition, giving birth to a baby boy and adjusting to life without the servants they used to have. Mrs Leckie said when she came out of camp, she “did not know how to boil an egg”.

After they were released, they wrote a Red Cross letter to their family in England. They had no idea where they were, and Mrs Leckie’s family returned to England in 1947.

As Mrs Leckie grew up, she found out more about her family’s struggles in the camp. She said her mother was involved with getting an apology from the Japanese 10 years ago.

During the lockdown, she said she has thought about her mother a lot, and got a sense of what she lived through.

“With this covid isolation, I think of my mother enormously,” she said. “At 25 her father died in the camp - with a baby, did she ever know she would come out?”

She added: “I’m proud to lay something that shows there were people who were still alive and did suffer through the war, but they were civilians.

“You must carry on the story, and I feel that it is a privilege to stand there and represent people who were taken into PoW - even if only because I was so young I can do so.”


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